The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday May 25th

Q&A with N.C. Rep. Walter Jones on the wars and the fallen in the Middle East

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., stands in front of a wall of photos of fallen soldiers outside his office. Jones sends condolence letters to the families of soldiers who have died in the Middle East because of his decision to vote in favor of the Iraq war in 2002. Photo courtesy of Allison Tucker.
Buy Photos U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., stands in front of a wall of photos of fallen soldiers outside his office. Jones sends condolence letters to the families of soldiers who have died in the Middle East because of his decision to vote in favor of the Iraq war in 2002. Photo courtesy of Allison Tucker.

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., sends condolence letters to the families of soldiers killed in the Middle East. Jones recently wrote letters to the families of the four U.S. soldiers who were killed in Niger Oct. 4. Staff writer Emma Boggess spoke with Jones about the letters.

The Daily Tar Heel: Why did you start sending these letters?

Walter Jones: I never believed that we were justified to go into Iraq when Saddam Hussein was the leader. I was not strong enough to vote my conscience — my conscience told me that we should not be going in, but I voted to send troops anyway. I was much younger at the time, and I had a lot of retired military in my district. In 2003 I had both Camp Lejeune Marine Base and Cherry Point Marine Air Station in my district, as well as close to 90,000 retirees. Most people at that point believed what they had been told by the Bush administration, which was intelligence that had been manipulated. I never believed that Saddam was responsible for 9/11, which was being proposed by the Bush administration. That’s what got me started.

In March of 2003 I met with Janina Bitz whose husband, Michael Bitz, was killed in the Iraq war. I had communicated with her by telephone to pay my condolences, and from that it led to me going to the funeral down at Camp Lejeune. It was a beautiful spring day, and the service was outside covered by a tent. They presented Janina with a folded flag and the Navy Chaplain read a verse. The minister made comments about the couple. Then Janina read the last letter that Michael had ever written her, from the back of a Humvee in Iraq. He was killed the day after. It was a very emotional day.

Janina had her little boy there. He was in a stroller, maybe five years old. He was being overseen by one of her relatives. I’ll never forget it — it was a deeply emotional situation for me because I had voted to send her husband to war. There were a lot of emotions going through my mind, and I still carry today the pain of voting for an unnecessary war. About five months after the funeral I started writing the letters. It’s been a continuation ever since.

DTH: How many letters have you written?

WJ: The number is well over 11,000, which includes extended family as well as immediate family members. The military liaison office contacts the families — they say there is a congressman who would like to send a condolence letter. Then they send me the address and the proper way to address the family. It has to be approved.

DTH: How do you feel about the United States’ current involvement in the Middle East and northern Africa?

WJ: My biggest concern is the waste of money and life in Afghanistan. We’ve been there 16 years — it’s the longest war in the history of America — and we’re still there. Nothing’s going to change. It’s time to get out of Afghanistan. Most of us didn’t even know we had a large number of American military in Niger. We’re all around the world. We in Congress have a constitutional responsibility to debate war. I wrote a letter to President Trump on July 14 when I heard they were going to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. I asked him if he would request a congressional debate about whether or not we should send more troops to Afghanistan. I never received an answer.

DTH: Have you had any other particularly moving experiences because of these letters?

WJ: When we went into Iraq, I started going to the Walter Reed Hospital to visit the wounded and see the family members. That in itself was a reminder of my mistake. I did that for a number of years to be reminded that war is hell — people die, people get wounded.

@DTHStatNat

state@dailytarheel.com

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